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The Leaving Year: A Novel

The Leaving Year: A Novel

by Pam McGaffin


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As the Summer of Love comes to an end, 15-year-old Ida Petrovich waits for a father who never comes home. While commercial fishing in Alaska, he is lost at sea, but with no body and no wreckage, Ida and her mother are forced to accept a “presumed” death that tests their already strained relationship. While still in shock over the loss of her father, Ida overhears an adult conversation that shatters everything she thought she knew about him. This prompts her to set out on a search for the truth that takes her from her Washington State hometown to Southeast Alaska, where she works at a salmon cannery, develops love for a Filipino classmate, and befriends a Native Alaskan girl. In this wild, rugged place, she also begins to understand the physical and emotional bonds that took her father north and why he kept them secret—a journey of discovery that ultimately brings her family together and helps them heal. Insightful and heartfelt, The Leaving Year is a tale of love and loyalty, family and friendship, and the stories we tell ourselves in our search for meaning.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781943006816
Publisher: SparkPress
Publication date: 08/14/2018
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 15 - 18 Years

About the Author

Pam McGaffin is an award-winning former journalist who returned to her original passion of writing fiction after a long career in newspapers and public relations. Her short stories have appeared in online literary journals, and her articles and essays have been featured in newspapers and magazines. She and her family live in Seattle. This is her first novel.

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An international radio distress signal used by ships and aircraft

August smells of fish and creosote, sun-warmed and oily. People wrinkle their noses at the stink, but I like it. It's the smell of boats returning. I've got my lucky Minnie Mouse beach towel, a can of Diet Pepsi, and my transistor radio. I've got the binder I started when I was six with "Homecomings" written on the cover inside a border of blue stars. Nine years. Nine fishing seasons in Alaska. Trollers in one column, purse seiners in another, writing in my best cursive all their clever, sentimental names, even though the only one I really care about is the Lady Rose, the beautiful red troller Dad named after me.

The west end of the Port Dock offers me a clear view of the channel. I kick off my flip-flops, spread my towel over the bull rail, and sit straddling it, my right leg dangling over the water. It's early, but the families have already started to gather. There's Mrs. Baldwin in her wheelchair being pushed by her grandson. And Mrs. Thompson, who usually spots the first fishing boats through the binoculars she keeps on her windowsill. The pregnant clerk at Tradewell is here with her little boy. And there's my old Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Ward, with her daughter-in-law. Some kids are playing tag. I'm not sure who they belong to.

Mrs. Ward waves hello and walks over, casting me in her ample shade. She cradles a big bunch of flowers — carnations, I think. Should I warn her that flowers are bad luck? Or maybe that's just flowers in the water. She's probably okay.

"Is your father coming in today?" she asks.

"No, not yet. Maybe this weekend."

"Bet you're counting the minutes." My grin must give me away because she laughs. "How's your mother doing? I haven't seen her in a while."

My mother is probably still in her bathrobe, but I don't tell her that. "She's fine ... ready for the season to be over."

Mrs. Ward cups her mouth with her free hand and leans in as if to tell me a secret. "The only thing harder than living with a fisherman is living without him."

I giggle at that. "Pretty flowers," I tell her, but her attention has shifted to Mrs. Thompson, who comes over to chat.

The two women walk off together and I'm free to switch on my radio. Before I do, though, I make up a test. If the first song I hear is happy, I'll see Dad this week. If it's sad, it'll be longer. From Ketchikan, Alaska, to Annisport, Washington, is three to five days, including fuel stops. Dad called Tuesday night, and today is Thursday, so he'll probably get in this weekend. Tonight he's supposed to call again and tell us where he is.

I turn my radio on and get what I think is a song, until I hear Things go better with Coca-Cola. Damn. I hate it when they fool you. I have to wait through advertisements for Doublemint Gum and Rice-A-Roni and finally a station-identification before I hear a familiar big-band intro and the Beatles singing, "Love, love, love." Nine loves. I've counted. I close my eyes and sing along, trying to send Dad all the love I can. Then I pop open my Pepsi — take that, Coca-Cola! — and turn to a fresh page in my notebook. At the top, I write August 17, 1967.

I look up just in time to see Mrs. Ward and Mrs. Thompson taking turns glancing back at me — this plump and desperate girl who obviously has nothing better to do with her last precious days of summer. What they don't know is that summer is purgatory when you're an only child stuck with a moody mom. Talk about desperate. The year I was born, she spiked Dad's dinner with powdered milk because she'd had a "death dream" about him. He got so sick he had to postpone his departure for Alaska by a whole week. I don't know how my grandparents found out. Maybe Mom felt so bad she confessed. But they weren't sympathetic at all.

Thank heaven I came along because I brought everyone together in a way that only a baby can. Now Grandpa Bill and my uncles laugh about the "Lac Attack," though Grandma still hasn't completely forgiven my mother. That's according to my cousin, Dena, who knows everything.

I flip back to the first page in my notebook. GRACE, the purse seiner my uncles named after my grandma, is written in big, blocky letters on the back of the grocery receipt Mom gave me out of her purse. The scrap is starting to lift away from the notebook paper I pasted it on. I press it down and turn the page, reading back through boats named for luck and strength and ladies.

Logging the names started as a way to kill time while I waited for Dad. Now it feels like an important ritual, a reverse blessing of the fleet. Dad understands. He's the one who taught me all the nautical sayings and superstitions, including the "red sky" saying everyone knows. "Never leave port on a Friday." That's another one. And women are bad luck unless they're gracing the bow as a figurehead. A boat is always a she, never a he, because captains love their ships more than the sweethearts they leave behind. Dad denies feeling that way about the Lady Rose, but I have to wonder when he seems so excited to get going each spring.

He says naming the boat after me is an honor. Mom says it's yet another example of guilt talking because he's away so long. Either way, I feel an almost human love for the Lady Rose and all the other lady boats, with their pretty names:

Miss Sharon Lizzy Mae Ma Cherie Little Queen Rebecca
I'm not sure why Dad chose my middle name instead of my first. I guess Rose sounded better to him than Ida, which is Mom's favorite girl name. She says she got to name me because Dad saddled us with the last name Petrovich, which in Croatian means "son of Peter." I don't know if there's a surname ending for "daughter of." I'll have to remember to ask Dad about that when he gets home.

The channel sparkles with little waves that turn into a thin band of light at the horizon. Past where I can see, the water widens into Rosario Strait, which connects to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which then leads to a rugged and stormy stretch of Northwest coastline known as the Graveyard of the Pacific. Dad won't be out there. He'll be on the protected east side of Vancouver Island, coming home early so we have some summer together before I start high school. The purse seine fishermen, including my Uncle Alex, are still up in Alaska, scooping up the salmon that are returning to the rivers to spawn.

"Easy over-fishing," Dad calls it, which always makes me think of eggs. If my uncles are over easy, Dad's scrambled, because he fishes out in the open ocean, where the weather and waves toss him around like a cork. It's dangerous out there, but the payoff, he says, is a hold full of the most beautiful fish you ever saw. He's shown me pictures of kings, the biggest and most prized salmon. He once caught and lost a fish that he said weighed well over a hundred pounds, more than I did at the time.

"Now your spring salmon has a choice," he'll say. "He can bite on your line or not. The purse seine fishing your uncles do is different. They circle a net around a run of homebound salmon and trap them. The poor things get all bruised and battered thrashing against each other in the net. That's no way to treat a fish."

He'll go on and on about the virtues of trolling versus net fishing even though it's a lost cause. All Slav fishermen are purse seiners and proud of it. How did that Thanksgiving argument start? I don't remember, but Dad must have had just enough dandelion wine to accuse all net fishermen, including my uncles, of being too greedy. "We have families to support, not to mention get back to," Uncle Pat shot back. He accused Dad of "playing cowboy" with his own life, which made Dad so mad he slammed his fist on the table, spilling his wine.

The wind shifts and I'm hit by a strong, spicy smell. Tabu. The only perfume I know that can compete with fish and win, which is probably why Mom wears it.

"I thought I'd find you here."

I turn to find her standing behind me. She's all dolled up — navy blue dress, gold pin in the shape of a clam shell, and bright red lips that bring out the strawberry-blond curls peeking out from the edges of her white chiffon scarf. Most of the other women here are wearing housedresses or pants with simple tops. Except for the scarf around her head, Mom could be working the perfume counter at Frederick & Nelson. And that can only mean one thing.

"Is Dad coming in?" As soon as I ask the question, I realize the impossibility. He's still at least a day away.

"No, but the Mackeys are."

Behind her, Mrs. Mackey raises her hand from the shoulder of her younger son to wave hello. I wave back, and my insides, which have been perfectly calm all morning, do a somersault. She looks so much like David, the boy I've been in love with for three years running. I knew I'd get to see him when he returned from fishing with his dad. I just didn't think it'd be this soon. I'm still summer-sloppy, with grimy clothes and unwashed hair, a lovely combination of greasy roots and frizzy curls.

"Do I have time to run home and take a shower?"

"I don't think so." Mom looks over my head toward the channel. I whip my head around. In the distance, I can just make out three trollers by the sun glinting off their outrigger poles.

Mrs. Thompson, peering through her binoculars, bellows this news to those gathered on the dock. All at once I'm surrounded by mothers, wives, and kids straining to see. The kids sit in front of me on the bull rail, partially blocking my view — not that there's much to look at yet.

When the boats get closer, Mrs. Thompson announces them: Fin's Folly, Oceana, and the Jumpin' J. My heart races when I hear Jumpin' J. That's the Mackey boat. I take a deep breath, trying to calm my nerves enough to write down the names. Then I close my notebook and look for a way to escape. Mom's talking to Mrs. Mackey, who's underdressed by comparison in jeans and a gingham shirt. And she's the one who's actually meeting family. Whatever they're talking about must be funny, judging from Mrs. Mackey's smirk. Could Mom be telling her that I'm in love with her son? Suddenly I'm conscious of my oily, frizzy hair, my notebook of lists, and my radio playing a Dippity-Do commercial. Could I be any more of a square if I tried?

As they approach the dock, the boats honk like a trio of very loud geese, drowning out the sounds of my radio. And there's David at the rail of the Jumpin' J, looking tanned and handsome and ... oh my God, is that a mustache? He's seen me. I flutter my fingers at him in what I hope is a sophisticated wave. I think he's waving back until I see his mom and younger brother behind me wind-milling their arms. There's no escaping now.

God, I wish I'd showered. Of course, he'll be reeking of fish. They all do when they come back, but no one cares. After four months of separation, Mrs. Mackey will attack her son and husband with hugs and kisses even as she checks to make sure they have all their fingers. Then it'll be, "How'd you do?" and "What price did you get?" and maybe even, "Did you beat so-and-so?" When I was younger, I had a hard time understanding how fishermen could be so competitive and chummy at the same time. Many of the troll fishermen, including Dad, fish alone, but they're always talking to each other on the radio. When they come home, they'll often come in pairs or groups of three. The purse seiners are even more clannish, coming in as a fleet to much fanfare. There's still a dent in the dock where the captain of the Liberty rammed it. Dad said he shouldn't have been showing off. All that wood crushing and splintering sure got everyone's attention, though.

The three boats come in slow and steady, barely making a ripple in the water. I turn around to follow them, knocking my empty Pepsi can into the water. Sheesh. Hope no one saw that. The Jumpin' J slides alongside us, goes into reverse, and nudges up to the rail. I have the thrill of watching David step onto the dock. His arm bulges as he secures the line. He's all muscle, not an ounce of fat left on him, which makes me more conscious of my own. Twiggy I'm not. I tug on the legs of my cut-offs before giving up and placing my beach bag strategically over my lap.

The Mackeys are having their hug fest. Mustn't stare. Look at the other boats tying up, the other families, the wheels of Mrs. Baldwin's wheelchair bumping over the planks of the dock. But David is facing me. Is it possible for someone's eyes to get bluer? They seem to hold the entire sky and then some. Blue is recessive. But then, so is green, I think. We learned that in science class. Maybe our children will have blue-green —

"Hi, Ida."

"David. I didn't see you ... um, so, how was fishing?"



His left shoe has a hole in the toe and his pants are covered in fish scales, but his T-shirt is clean, and very white against his brown skin. Close up, I notice the start of a beard in addition to the mustache. His lips are sun-chapped. That's okay. I still want to kiss them. He's saying something about fish.


"It was hard to find fish," he repeats. "And when we did, something was always going wrong with our gear."

"Well, congratulations on surviving."

He laughs. "Thanks. I think I'm going to sleep for three days."

I'd like to kiss you to sleep. You could sleep in my arms for as long as you like.

"... your summer?"


"How was your summer?"

"Oh, you know, pretty boring. Not like yours."

He's got his mother's smirk under that shaggy mustache. "So, you're going into tenth, right?"

"Yep ... Annisport High." As if it isn't obvious. We only have one high school.

"Well, I'll see you there." He turns back to his family and I let out my breath. I need to do something, anything, to work out my jitters, so I fiddle with my radio dial even though it's already tuned to my favorite station. After hitting some embarrassing mother-music stations, I switch it off and stick it back in my bag. Now I can't get out of here fast enough. I get up, put on my flip-flops, stuff my towel in my bag, and look for Mom.

Ugh. Just my luck, she's talking to David's dad, and it looks like they could go on for a while. I could slip away and head home. I came down here alone. But Mom would be mad if I left without telling her. So I walk up to them and stand there like a doofus. Fortunately, David has turned his attention to his younger brother, who's jabbing him and running away before circling back and doing it again. David just laughs. Aw, what a guy. He even plays with his brother.

Okay, mustn't stare.

Mr. Mackey's sunburned nose is peeling. "We don't call each other as much when we're heading home," he says to my mother. "There's not much left to talk about."

"Oh, I'm not worried," Mom says in a voice I know as forced cheer. She uses it around my grandparents. She turns away from Mr. Mackey. "Oh," she says to me. "Are you ready to leave?"

"Yeah, whenever."

She throws a see-what-I-mean? glance Mr. Mackey's way. Did she tell him about my crush too? God, now David's going to find out for sure.

Is it my imagination, or is there sympathy in Mrs. Mackey's eyes as we say our good-byes and congratulations?

"It won't be long now," she says to Mom. What? Until our children are married? Until we're in-laws?

"I hope," Mom says.

"Well, let us know. We'll come down to help you welcome him."

Duh, of course, they're talking about Dad. I've got to get my head out of the clouds.

"Thanks," Mom says. "Thanks so much."

I steal one last glance at David and his bluer-than-blue eyes and a zingy sensation ripples through my body, leaving a pleasing tickle.

"I was kind of thinking," Mom says after settling herself behind the wheel of our station wagon. "Would you like to get lunch at the A&W? I'm craving one of their root beer floats."

If I nodded my head any more enthusiastically I'd give myself whiplash. The A&W is perhaps the only thing that can get my mind off David. We turn down Commercial Avenue to go through the middle of town, passing under a street banner advertising the annual Summer Salts Festival.

"Oh God, that stupid festival," Mom says.

"Dad likes it."

"Well your dad's just a big kid."

"Yeah." When I was little, he got me over my fear of Salty, the salmon mascot, by making me "shake fins" with it. Up close, I could see through the black mesh in Salty's mouth that it was just a man in a gray foam-rubber suit.


Excerpted from "The Leaving Year"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Pam McGaffin.
Excerpted by permission of BookSparks.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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